10 Tips for (Sober) Holiday Gift Giving

One of the hardest aspects of recovery for many recovering compulsive debtors and spenders (especially newcomers) is putting the brakes on extravagant (i.e., expensive) gift giving, especially around the holidays. The idea that more is not only better, but required, is a part of our disease that is fueled by the media and even those around us (think kids who may have gotten used to feeding the “gimme gimme” monster).

We who are so used to being the big spender, especially around holidays, find our whole sense of self tied up with giving the biggest and best gifts. But if we are committed to recovery from compulsive debting and spending, then we get willing to sit through our discomfort as we actively live within our means around gift giving.

So here are 10 Tips to help you maintain your sobriety with money during the holidays:

  1. Have a PRG as soon as possible to realistically fund your gift category for the next year. Make sure you think about all gifts you need, birthdays, holidays, etc. The miracle of a PRG team is that they can help you figure out what is reasonable to put a way each month.
  2. Stay in reality about what you can afford. For me, even now, I can no longer afford to spend much on gifts. If I deprive myself to buy others gifts, my disease will eventually win and I will relapse. That is why the feedback of a PRG team helps me to see clearly how much is enough.
  3. If your new reality is far less than you hoped, and you begin to feel demoralized and upset as the holidays approach and you feel the pinch becoming a stranglehold, make lots and lots of phone calls to reach out to others. Talk about your feelings and ask them about their experience. I have yet to find one recovering DA member who won’t relate to some aspect of this issue! And knowing you aren’t alone (and that it will actually get better) can really help.
  4. Who do you really need to buy gifts for? Maybe it’s time to whittle down your list. I’m not trying to be Scrooge here, but sometimes, we just give as a knee-jerk reaction when in reality, it’s not really necessary. For instance, one member said that when the nieces and nephews had graduated college and were on to their own adult lives, she didn’t feel that she needed to continue giving them presents.
  5. Consider shifting to a Secret Santa gift exchange with your family. Maybe you aren’t the only one feeling the pinch of gift giving. Such a suggestion to pick one name each might bring a huge sigh of relief among the other members of the family!
  6. Consider shifting to charitable gifting in lieu of gifts. For instance, I know one member who sponsors a child in another country and has let her family know that is her gift.
  7. If you have children who are used to getting lots of really expensive holiday gifts, tamping down the spending may result in a lot of angst and button pushing to manipulate you. But during such times (and trust me, I have been there – it sucks), remember that you are teaching your children an invaluable lesson about the importance of living within one’s means. Even if you get a negative response from an adult with whom you exchange gifts or feel judged by them, remember that you are choosing to live in recovery and within your means. The extravagance of the gift is not the gauge of how much we love people.
    This is also a great opportunity to show your kids the real meaning of the season by participating in charitable acts, like volunteering in a soup kitchen, visiting a nursing home, and encouraging them to do other acts of kindness. In addition, this may be the perfect time to open a dialogue with your children about responsible spending, which could end up being a profound bonding and healing experience.
  8. Consider making gifts. Do you have any art, writing, or crafting skills? Homemade gifts don’t have to be “hokey.” When my son was 21, I wrote a book for him and embedded photographs. The only cost was a few dollars for printing. In the past, I debted hundreds and hundreds of dollars to get him the latest, greatest game system and more “stuff” for his birthday. But this was the first time he ever cried and hugged me with such emotion. The delight in his eyes showed me that he truly did love the gift. This year, for his 25th birthday, I’m not able to really write much, so I’m making him a handmade book with short phrases and just creating art around it. This time, I’m having a lot of angst about whether it’s awful or wonderful. Really doubting myself. But I’m continuing down the path because discomfort doesn’t mean I should abandon creating my heartfelt gift.

    If you feel you don’t have any skills for making gifts, it’s never too late to open yourself to learning how to create. I cannot tell you how many arts and crafts I learned to do for free from watching videos and reading instructions online! Here are just a few of the skills I’ve learned from free videos and instructions:

    * Hand sewing to convert a dress to shorts and skirts to pants
    * Drawing intricate patterns (check out Zentangle.com especially if you think you cannot draw!). Here are some of my drawings:








    * Crochet and knitting
    * Tapestry weaving
    * and lots more – all of which require minimal investment (I pretty much forget about any hobby that requires lots of money)

    Any of these could provide lots of wonderful, thoughtful gifts to those you love.

If you are feeling guilty, or self-conscious, or beating yourself up, or feeling less than, or drowning in desperation about holiday gift giving, then these last two tips are probably the most important of all:

  1. Be grateful. The amazing thing about gratitude is that it is a gift we can give ourselves under all circumstances. We may not be happy today, but we can always be grateful. It is a good habit to write a few gratitudes down daily, but during the holidays it may be even more important as a gift to yourself.
  2. Turn your thoughts to someone you can help. Giving service is the cornerstone of recovery from compulsive debting and spending. Listening to a friend, spending time with someone who is infirm, driving a family member to an appointment, all of these are examples of how we can be generous. We each have an unlimited ability to give of ourselves in ways that cost nothing but mean so much to others. All we have to do is tap into it.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a happy, abstinent, solvent, prosperous New Year!

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